So you want to make it in the music business. There are many different jobs to choose from, but one of the most exciting is that of an audio engineer. If you have already been producing music, you’re on the right track to recording at the professional level.
Depending on where you end up, an audio engineer can take the place of a producer, studio manager, or tech specialist. No matter what you enjoy, it is good to get an idea of how the entire studio works. This knowledge well will help increase your value and marketability to recording studios.
The Job Description
Audio engineers fulfill a wide variety of roles. What these responsibilities come down to, though, is that they provide a vast knowledge base about anything technical. Artists, performers, producers, and many others go to the audio engineer anytime they have questions in the studio.
Luxuries like high quality sound equipment are useless without a good audio engineer. Audio engineers make or break music production by balancing sonic elements and preventing any type of interference.
The bottom line is, as an audio engineer, you are a problem solver. Your priority is to create an environment where music creation can flow as smooth and as “clean” as possible. This can include anything from setting up microphones to adjusting and mixing in the booth. Either way, you are the genius behind the final product.
One thing to note is that good sound engineers often get ignored. This isn’t because they aren’t important, but because they prevent problems in the studio. The best compliment you can get as an audio engineer is to finish a session or performance without any complaints.
The Delicate Peaking Process
One of the main things that can interfere with music production is audio feedback. As the audio engineer, it’s your responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen. This process is often called “peaking out,” or “peaking” a room. During the peaking process, you adjust the equipment to provide peak sound without feedback.
The ideal way to prevent feedback is to peak your room or studio before the music production begins. Even when you do this, you’ll still need to make adjustments on occasion. Audio feedback results from several factors, which is why it’s difficult to prevent completely. Some of these various factors include:
- Speaker placement
- Microphone location
- Microphone type
- System volume
- Transmitter gain
- Equipment frequencies
You’re especially likely to have feedback issues when you’re in an unfamiliar venue or studio. Unless you’re in charge of all the equipment, there are countless ways someone can adjust your carefully set sound levels and equipment placement.
How Feedback Occurs
Audio feedback happens when antenna gain reaches “unity,” thus causing the signal to loop over and over. This looping produces a screeching or wailing sound that is quite unpleasant. Even worse, the noise from feedback often completely masks the actual music. If you want to stop audio feedback, you’ll have to find a way to adjust the gain and break the cycle or looped signal.
Anyone who has attended a small-scale concert has likely heard the screeches of a maladjusted sound system. Picture a guitarist at a small venue playing toward their speaker. The resulting squeals are audio feedback produced by a looping signal with nowhere to go.
You can test and adjust transmitter gain ahead of time with your staging and set up. This involves the placement of microphones, speakers, and any other type of sound transmitter. It’s also good to discuss proper microphone placement with any and all performers to keep their sound free of feedback.
You should also take the acoustics of the room and how it interacts with your equipment into account. On-the-road audio engineers often deal with different venues and varying sound equipment. Still, it is possible to peak a room correctly, even when you’re in an unfamiliar venue.
Along with managing gain staging, you’ll need to do complete the following steps to prevent audio feedback:
- Use directional microphones, if possible
- Complete an initial sound check
- Identify which signals cause feedback
- Lower problematic frequencies for each receiver
- Lower speaker output, especially near microphones
- Turn microphones off when not in use
No matter the situation, it is better to err on the side of caution. When you make adjustments, keep in mind any volume changes throughout. Leave yourself plenty of room before feedback can occur, while maintaining optimal levels of sound.
If you are still nervous about feedback, you might consider purchasing a noise gate. This device will automatically shut off signals that exceed a preset threshold, so it acts as a sort of failsafe. Whatever you do, take into account instrument and vocal frequencies as well as speaker placement. If you pay attention to all these details, you’ll succeed in creating clear, clean sound.